We caught up with Shane Metcalf, CCO and Co-Founder of 15Five. We discussed a whole range of questions about organizations that are growing…
How can a company protect its culture in periods of high growth?
As your company matures and revenue streams become healthier and the team grows, it can be an exciting time for your company, but it can also negatively impact your culture, which can be one of the most dangerous growing pains.
Culture is constantly evolving and changing and you can’t rest on your laurels of the culture you had yesterday – if you continue to be deliberate about your process you will succeed and leverage the many challenges of scaling to great effect. You must also be sure to not take your attention off it, as you’ll pay the price. That’s even more true in the current climate of rapid changes to society today. As culture creators we are called on to pay even more attention to the mental and emotional wellbeing of our people than ever, all the while in a completely virtual format which is filled with challenges and opportunities.
As you scale, you need to be honest with yourself about your values and if they are up for the task of guiding your culture through the unique challenges that face the company today. If not, reinvent them.
It’s critical to make sure you stick to your “why.” When you’re thinking about your company culture, you must state the “why” behind the company, and then build your values around it. When your company is being pressure tested by high growth, use your “why” as your North Star to decide if you should keep or adapt any cultural practices. Transcend them and include the old values that remain true to your company. Then get back to the basics of what made your culture great in the first place, which is likely something along the lines of simply caring about your people and making sure they know you care.
From your vantage point, what specific factors make a great corporate culture, and how are these affected by rapid change in the organization?
A great culture is one that gives its people more than it takes. Startups, especially hyper-growth startups, demand an enormous amount from their people. The time, energy, and attention that goes into achieving success is enormous, which is why the best cultures leave their people better than they found them. It’s about broadening our definition of profit to include the growth and expansion of its employees alongside financial success. It’s about understanding that every employee is a unique human being with their own wants, desires, dreams, fears, and aspirations. The company that can tap into that vision and help people achieve their own potential and live an extraordinary life, and develop primary skills (EQ, communication, feedback etc), is the company that’s going to have raving fans for employees and who will go the extra mile to see the company succeed.
As we’ve all shifted to remote work, the most critical factors for a great company culture are communication, transparency, trust, and leading with empathy. As more and more people join your team, it’s vital to be deliberate about your communication cadence to share what’s going on within the company and develop a safe space for everyone to come together. When more people join the company, levels of trust across the organization will shift, and people can start to feel as though they’re in the dark or forgotten. If you lead with empathy and understand how it must feel being new to a company and team, or being a veteran with the company, you’ll build the foundation to create a psychologically safe workplace.
One-on-one meetings between managers and direct reports are an important tactic for maintaining culture as they build a strong foundation of trust and help deepen relationships. In fact, 15Five’s report from earlier this year found that 82% of employees with at least weekly one-on-ones with their manager say they’re getting the support they need during the pandemic, compared to 66% of workers with less frequent one-on-ones. Connection is more important than ever, but it’s harder to develop in a remote environment, so it is important for managers to meet with their employees regularly to deepen trust across the business.
Who should take charge of upholding corporate values (should it be a top-down or bottom-up approach)? And how can these stakeholders stay on the forefront of culture initiatives?
There’s no single owner. Every person has a piece of the puzzle, because ultimately, culture is simply the sum of the parts and every part influences the whole. Founders and senior leaders have a disproportionate impact on the culture, so that’s a great place to start, but it comes from all angles and a single independent contributor can own the culture in a massive way if they are empowered to do so.
I am also a firm believer in leading by example. If you want your employees to live out company values at work, you have to exhibit them yourself. Staying at the forefront means listening, being curious, and willing to take care of ourselves. It helps to have the right tools and systems in place, but you still need to listen for what is and is not being said. It’s important to be willing to take care of ourselves and be a radical stand for the kind of company we want to work for to align our values.
To stay at the forefront of culture, you need to have a pulse on how people are feeling as much as possible. Conducting engagement surveys, taking regular pulse checks, checking in with people and specific teams when possible are all effective ways to accomplish this. Then, you need to live and breathe your values. Once you’ve developed your list of core values, it’s important to create an ongoing dialogue around them to discover where there may be misalignment, but also where you’re excelling. You can’t force everyone to adopt your company’s culture, but you can lead by example and openly discuss values at every opportunity.
When a company sets out to build its values system and to communicate their values, how flexible or adaptable should their system be to change? Can you give us examples of when a company’s values might be threatened because of the need to scale up the business fast?
One of my favorite quotes when it comes to business is, “it is not the strongest that survives, but the most adaptable.”
Last year, 15Five experienced a period of rapid growth, going from a company of roughly 40 people to almost 200 in a matter of months. With growth, comes new opinions, values, and perspectives that may be different from the foundational company culture. As the company grows, it will have to adapt to these new perspectives and make sure that the culture fits as much of the collective people as possible.
We must remember that our cultures and values are really just works of fiction – they are stories we tell that produce different behaviors and actions. If new behaviors and actions are needed to keep pace with a rapidly changing world, then we must change our own stories and identities so that we can evolve and adapt with the times, otherwise we will be left behind.
Today, we hear companies of all sizes pledging to “do better” at a time when employees and the larger community call for greater diversity and inclusion. When a company begins to lose sight of its values, what steps can they take to get back on track? In short, how can they do better?
With companies being called on to “do better” with diversity and inclusion, they need to embrace this challenge, welcome feedback, and understand that mistakes and failures are a natural component of learning.
To get back on track, there are a few easy steps: embrace change, evaluate, evolve, and establish. As I mentioned earlier, embrace the change when you’re faced with an issue you must overcome. Evaluate how your company is doing. Do some honest self-reflection to decide what is working and what’s not within your culture and company. Then decide what you want your company to become and what your people want; decide what components of your culture you’d like to keep and what you’re going to leave behind.
You’re now primed for evolution. You can create new values that are in line with your people’s passions, and where you want your company to be. This can be a combination of new values with the foundational components of your culture you’ve decided to keep. Then, you’re ready to get this all in motion and establish your new values and culture. Figure out how to engineer this new culture, and figure out how to bring the values to life.
The commitment to Diversity and Inclusion needs to be long-term. Just as we’ve seen this year specifically, the conversation around culture hasn’t been taken seriously in the past decade, so we need to make it table stakes to have a process in place to ensure that all humans in our companies have equal opportunity to belong and feel enough psychological safety to bring their best-selves to work. This process does not stop just when the headlines about racial inequality are no longer the headlines…